Hundreds of thousands of students receive A-level results after exams were cancelled

13 August 2020, 05:52

Students pictured getting their results last year
Students pictured getting their results last year. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Hundreds of thousands of students are receiving their A-level results today after exams were cancelled for the first time ever due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Pupils results this year will be based on estimated grades and the exam watchdog has already announced a 2% rise in A* and A grades this year at A-level.

The changes means that around 40 per cent of exam results will be different, most of them lower than predicted grades submitted by teachers.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson told LBC this morning: "There is sometimes a danger where you have an exceptionally high-performing child in a low-performing school to be in a situation where they don't get the grades that they want to.

"What we've asked the exam boards is, where they think there may be outliers, is actually to be contacting the schools to talk with them to make sure that appeals are put forward.

"The reason we've got the appeals process that we have is to ensure if there is a situation where a child is in that place that they get the grades that they deserve.

"There is no system that is as good as the exams system, and any of the system that is put in its place will have weaknesses compared to the exams system."

Gavin Williamson admits issue with A-level results system

Mr Williamson has ruled out England following Scotland in accepting scores estimated by teachers, instead using a complex statistical model to work out students' grades.

On Wednesday Mr Williamson apologised to pupils for the disruption to their schooling during the Covid-19 pandemic, but insisted they will receive "credible, strong results"' on Thursday's result day.

The Government announced late on Tuesday that A-level and GCSE students will be able to use results in valid mock exams to appeal if they are unhappy with their results.

The Scottish and Welsh Governments have also both made last-minute changes, with Scotland reversing the downgrading of more than 124,000 results and Wales allowing AS-level grades to be used.

Read more: A-Level students share their concerns after last minute change to exam grading

Writing in The Daily Telegraph newspaper, Mr Williamson said that allowing teachers' grades to be used would see students lose out.

He said: "We would have seen them shoot up, which would devalue the results for the class of 2020, and would clearly not be fair on the classes of 2019 and 2021.

"But worse than that, it would mean that students this year would lose out twice over, both in their education and their future prospects."

Mr Williamson had earlier pledged the exams system will deliver "credible, strong results" for the overwhelming majority of young people, despite concerns that many could end up with results lower than they had expected to receive.

The coronavirus pandemic forced sustained school closures across the UK during the back end of the spring term and the majority of the summer term.

It has meant pupils have been unable to sit GCSE or A-level exams, crucial in deciding how best to continue their education, where to look for work or training, or which college or university course to apply to.

In England GCSE and A-level students in England have been assured of a so-called "triple lock" approach, essentially picking their best result.

It means students could accept their calculated grade, appeal to receive valid mock results, or sit their exams when schools resume properly in the autumn.

Sir Keir Starmer condemns changes to how exams are decided as 'shambolic'

The Scottish Government on Tuesday confirmed that it would allow for all results that were downgraded to be withdrawn and replaced by the original estimates.

It followed protests from pupils across the country angry that they had been unfairly penalised by attending schools which have not historically had high levels of performance.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said that it was a "blatant injustice" that young people could have their futures decided by their postcode as a result of the exams system.

He said: "Pupils and parents are rightly worried that years of hard work are about to be undone because a computer has decided to mark their child down.

"For too long, the Tories have considered the needs of young people as an afterthought when their needs should have been central.

"It's a blatant injustice that thousands of hardworking young people risk having their futures decided on the basis of their postcode."

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Few students would have been able to predict the impact the pandemic would have on them - in particular, that their final grade might hinge on mock exam results.

Student approaches to mock exams vary - some see it as a chance to test themselves, some deem it a distraction. Others are ambivalent.

So it is understandable that there is concern that exams previously dismissed as being of low value by some students are now being relied upon to determine their futures.

There are also concerns that teacher estimates - which can now be used by Scottish pupils who saw their results downgraded after moderation - might not be accurate.

While different nations have had different approaches, the confusion and last-minute goalpost-changing in England and Scotland in particular may result in a wave of appeals from schools - although there will be a lot of pressure to get those appeals dealt with promptly ahead of the new academic year.